Jonathan Mirsky

Mao’s girl and me

An encounter with one of the Chairman’s underage lovers

In 1997 in Hong Kong one of Mao Zedong’s numerous sexual partners — in this case an underage one — told me her life story. Mao the monster was already notorious: his lunatic policies had caused the world’s worst famine (1959–1961), in which 40 to 50 million Chinese starved to death; he inspired the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when a few million more died. And before he came to power in 1949, Mao often ordered the murder of those who ­challenged his ambitions within the Chinese Communist Party.

But a paedophile? Yes indeed. Ms Chen, the young woman with whom Mao began sleeping in 1962, was 14. The Chairman was born in 1893. His consumption of young women, while he was married to Jiang Qing, one of the Gang of Four, was notorious, and became more so after the publication in 1994 of The Private Life of Chairman Mao, by Li Zhisui, Mao’s doctor. For years Dr Li listened to Mao boasting about his sexual practices and prowess; he also treated the Great Helmsman for various venereal diseases. He continued, against Dr Li’s advice, to sleep with his numerous young partners, some of whom were described as his nurses. Although at least one became pregnant, Dr Li knew that Mao was infertile; he never revealed this to his patient.

I was the East Asia editor of the Times, stationed in Hong Kong, when I was introduced to Ms Chen by Jin Zhong, the editor of Kaifang [‘Open’] magazine, a journal devoted to politics across the border. He told me she was worried about what might happen to her when China took over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997. Could I find out from the British or the Americans if they would get her out?

By the time I met Ms Chen, then 57, she was no longer the pretty slip of a girl in the pictures she showed me of her in the Chinese air force singing and dancing troupe which had entertained Mao and his senior colleagues in the Chairman’s enclave in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

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